Risks, Relationships and Rewards

Use your quality toolkit to make wise career decisions

by Teresa Whitacre

Employers, employees and independent contractors alike have been affected by the turbulent economy. We see it all around us, whether at firms we own, organizations at which we work or businesses we patronize. Nonprofits a re experiencing the same types of challenges as for-profits.

All organizations can benefit from the knowledge of quality professionals. Our careers are rooted in problem solving, risk analysis, out-of-the-box thinking and managing based on lean principles.

Three examples

The road to rewards is paved with pot-holes of risk. What matters is how prepared you are to avoid the risky potholes and find the reward at the finish line. Consider the three women chronicled in the article "You’re Hired" from the May 2009 Woman’s Day magazine. These three women all took significant risks and started new careers.

One had a relatively stable job in a field she enjoyed but saw a need for a service business totally unrelated to her current career. She started a part-time business, and the financial and time risk paid off when she was able to grow her side business to the point at which it became her full-time career.

Another woman was in an unstable industry. She took a risk and temporarily relocated to another state to put her secondary skills to work. She left her home, family and life’s work behind to take a chance on a better future. After eight months, her reward came in the way of a promotion within a growing industry. The situation also resulted in her spouse finding a job in the new location and a better life overall for her family.

The third woman was working but not happy with what she was doing. She decided to leave the security of her parents’ business and made her way into unfamiliar work territory by volunteering and "freelancing for free" to get her name known in a new field. Within a year, she built a good network of happy clients, one of whom hired her.

Risk management tools

Have you, as an employer or employee, considered what makes up your unique mix for success? It is difficult to leave your comfort zone, especially when you are not forced to do so by circumstances beyond your control. Consider using the risk management principles from your quality toolkit and apply the same ideas to your career decisions.

What happens if you leave the job for a better one? What happens if you start your own business? What plan do you have if your industry, profession or organization ceases to exist? Evaluating the risks—and the rewards—will help you make the right choice.

Even if you still have a job in shaky times, a risk assessment and a plan are good preventive measures in case the work runs out. The rewards take many forms, especially the relationships made along the way, whether they be with other organizations or fellow employees.

Build relationships

Career consultant Andrea Kay’s "Careers" column discusses just how beneficial relationship building is, particularly in turbulent economic times.1 She tells of a woman who went well above and beyond what was required for her client.

The woman helped the client arrange for delivery and setup of a product and clarified the product’s instruction manual—all functions that were part of her job. But, she went further. In talking with the client, the woman learned the client had just moved to the area, where her favorite cereal was not sold. The woman had a year’s supply of the cereal sent to her client as a thank you for doing business with her. That client, in turn, sent the woman’s business additional customers. Relationships matter.

Sometimes, relationships unrelated to jobs can benefit your career. Consider the first woman chronicled in Woman’s Day. She started her part-time business with just one customer garnered from a relationship with the customer’s mother.

Now more than ever, the relationships we have will pull us through any crisis. Don’t wait until you are faced with job loss or other career crisis. Continue relationship building, or get started if you haven’t done so.

Get started now

Perform a risk assessment of your own career. Don’t just limit yourself to the industry you know; consider something that is your passion. Tough economic times lead people to rethink their careers and their work.

As HR consultant Chris Posti of Posti & Associates writes, "Office managers start pet-sitting businesses, nonprofit administrators get real estate licenses," because they made lists of their capabilities, interests and all the jobs that excited them.2

They took risks to make their passions pay off. You have the power, you have the passion, and you have the network. What are you waiting for?


  1. Andrea Kay, "Careers," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 27, 2009.
  2. Christ Posti, "Careers," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 31, 2009.

Teresa Whitacre is a quality assurance manager in Pittsburgh and a principal in Marketech Systems. She holds a bachelor’s degree in organizational management from Ashford University in Clinton, IA, as well as ASQ certifications as a quality auditor, engineer, manager and Six Sigma Green Belt. Whitacre is programs chair for ASQ’s Pittsburgh section, instructor for the section’s certified quality inspector refresher course and deputy regional director for ASQ Region 8.

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